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Urgent call for agriculture action

/ 05:22 AM September 21, 2016

Recent events make the call for decisive action in agriculture urgent. Both President Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol have emphasized the need for rapid agriculture development in the next six years.

Providing well-researched action initiatives to support this call is the UP Los Baños’ (UPLB) position paper entitled “An Urgent Call to Action for Structural Transformation of Philippine Agriculture 2017-2030: Towards Food Security and Broad-based Sustained Growth.” It was discussed in an AgriKultura Workshop last Sept. 17-18.

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UPLB was represented by chancellor Fernando Sanchez Jr., vice chancellor Rex Demapelis and six UPLB deans who led the discussion on the six strategies that were identified to achieve rapid agriculture development.

The private sector was represented primarily by one Agri-Fisheries Alliance (AFA) leader each from Alyansa Agrikultura, Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunanand Agriculture Fisheries 2025.

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The UPLB position considered two previous documents: Agriculture 2020 (done during President Arroyo’s term) and Agriculture Fisheries 2025 (under President Aquino’s term). But only a few of the recommendations were implemented.

Dismal state

Today, we find ourselves at the bottom of the list prepared by UPLB’s Geny Lapina using World Bank data:

Unfortunately, the Philippine performance in 2016 is even worse than the dismal 0.2 percent growth in 2015. In contrast to industry’s growth of 9 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively, in the first two quarters this year, agriculture’s was -4.4 percent and -2.1 percent.

UPLB Dean Isabelita Paboayon quoted economist Peter Timmer as saying: “No country has been able to sustain the rapid transition out of poverty without raising productivity in the agricultural sector … A dynamic agriculture raises labor productivity in the rural economy, pulls up wages, and gradually eliminates the worst dimensions of agriculture poverty.”

UPLB position

UPLB identified six strategies to achieve sustainable agriculture growth.  We identify here two that merit special attention.

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The first is “promoting value-adding processing enterprises.” AF2025 leader Philip Young compared the Philippines to Thailand. Thailand has a well-structured agriculture system where processing plants are surrounded by agriculture production areas which concentrate on priority agriculture crops. These then attain value-added status that dominate both domestic and export markets.

The opposite is true in the Philippines. Farmers plant products without knowing where to sell them. Ironically, processing plants are underutilized because they don’t know where to get the products they need. The Thai government takes pro-active action in promoting this link between farmers and processing plants. On the other hand, our government focuses mostly on production and gives almost no attention to linking farmers with processing plants and markets. The result has been a disaster for agriculture.

The second is “effective monitoring and evaluation.”  UPLB dean Arnold Elepaño showed that in a year, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) gained 34,000 hectares in new irrigation, but 70,000 ha in lost irrigation.  With such a large budget, the result is a net loss of 37,000 ha.

The 2015 NIA budget of P28.8 billion was increased to P32.7 billion in 2016. The 2017 budget proposal being considered today in Congress is a further increase to P36.4 billion. To prevent further net irrigation losses, AgriKultura Workshop Coordinator Pablito Villegas proposed retrofitting and wise bundling of irrigation with critical components such as water supply, power and flood control. This should be considered before the traditional building schemes for new irrigation.

Management systems with effective monitoring and evaluation procedures are key to the proper use of budgets. For the first half of this year, DTI reported 8.0 percent industry growth while DA showed -3.3 percent. The DTI required a globally recognized management system such as ISO 9000 in every one of its units, whereas the DA has hardly any. This points to the necessity of good governance.

President Duterte and Secretary Piñol have sounded the same urgent call for agriculture transformation. The UPLB position presented over the weekend, when modified and improved through added recommendations from other sectors, can be the starting point for a detailed public-private sector agenda to accomplish this much-needed and long-awaited transformation.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax (02) 8522112).

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